Incoming freshmen get to work before semester begins
By: Laura Reindl
Incoming freshman Elsie Dowuona-Hammond arrived on campus a few days early this fall. While her future classmates were spending their last few days of summer vacation saying goodbye to friends and family and completing last minute back-to-school shopping, Dowuona-Hammond and 120 other new students were busy connecting to the greater Binghamton community and making a difference for local residents as participants in Binghamton University’s second annual Welcome Week Service Project.
The purpose of the project is two-fold, says Marty Wygmans, program organizer and executive director of student services at Binghamton University.
“The first purpose is to help them identify and become comfortable with a peer group early on,” Wygmans says. “The second is to help those same students learn about the Binghamton community, to take them out to these service sites and have them build a connection to the community. It’s all about connection-building and giving back to the community that Binghamton University is so proud to be a part of.”
Dowuona-Hammond and her classmates volunteered at seven sites in and around Binghamton. Service projects ranged from painting murals to preparing educational programs at museums to cleaning up and beautifying natural areas. Dowuona-Hammond’s group spent the first day with the Broome County Council of Churches’ Ramp It Up program, dismantling a wheelchair ramp at one location where it was no longer needed and rebuilding it at the home of a woman with a physical disability.
“The project was fun and I learned a lot about building,” says Dowuona-Hammond, “but the absolute best part was when we were introduced to the woman who we were building the ramp for, Mary. Seeing her face as she saw the ramp being built was so great. She expressed her gratitude and said that she had the luck of always encountering ‘good kids.’”
On the second day of the service project, Dowuona-Hammond and her group worked with the Community Hunger Outreach Warehouse (CHOW), where they passed out free food to community members experiencing food insecurity.
“When we announced that a lot of the food was free, people were so surprised and grateful. Unfortunately, many people have to wonder where their next meal is coming from and to hear that there is free food is such a relief. Since CHOW [distributes free food] often, I feel as if the community feels more connected knowing that there is such support for them.
“Had it not been for [the Welcome Week Service Project], I may have only seen the ‘nice’ parts of Binghamton, but through this experience I got to see everything. Through all the people I met, both volunteers and community members, I was able to see how our service affected everybody. By experiencing this first hand, I felt as if I was a part of the community, despite only being there for a couple of days.”
Reflecting back to the first day of service building the wheelchair ramp, Dowuona-Hammond says she thinks her service was beneficial to everyone involved — the community, her fellow students and Binghamton University as an institution.
“Not only were we building a ramp, but to this woman we were the true representation of our generation. A generation that can be defined by service to the community sounds like an amazing generation to me, and I could tell it sounded great to Mary too. It felt great to be representing Binghamton University in such a positive way.”